During this legislative term, I have made it my priority to help spread the word about the damage Ohio’s opioid epidemic has had on our families and communities and the importance of preventive measures. With the “Got Your Back” Ohio Drug-Free Initiative and a recent community forum with Attorney General Mike DeWine, I’ve been striving to utilize all platforms to reach people off all ages to educate them about the dangers of illicit drugs and to encourage a healthy, drug-free lifestyle.
My efforts on this issue have been greatly supported at the state level, especially by my colleagues in the Ohio House. We all understand the dire situation our state is facing with this opioid crisis, and it is well known that Ohio led the nation in opioid overdose deaths in 2015. It is for these reasons that I was proud to support the investment of $170.6 million in new money in the House-version of the biennial state operating budget.
As a part of the Buckeye Pathway, the HOPES (Heroin, Opioids, Prevention, Education, and Safety) Agenda is strongly reflected in this budget bill. These funds would focus on four key areas of this issue: prevention, treatment, mental health, and workforce development. In the area of prevention, funds would be used to broadcast a drug-free message to all Ohioans, utilizing technology, community hubs, and already established programs like Start Talking!. Regarding treatment, $130 million would go towards an increase in access to detox centers, an expansion of drug courts, and transitional housing, among a variety of other needs.
At the end of the day, drug abuse and addiction is a mental illness, so it is important to direct resources for that purpose as well. A portion of these funds would be used to back stabilization centers and a drug court pilot program for mental health. The intention behind this investment is to support those transitioning from a lifestyle of addiction to sobriety and ensure they have the resources in place to prevent a relapse. To further advance that goal, funds will also go towards workforce reintegration, increasing opportunities for individuals who have escaped the addiction cycle to return to work and be a productive member of society again.
I am a strong proponent of these measures and have made it my mission to do all I can to end drug abuse and addiction in our state. I strongly encourage the Senate to retain these measures in the state budget bill as it considers the legislation and look forward to continuing this conversation across Ohio. The opioid epidemic is truly our most pressing concern, and we must do everything in our power to prevent it from afflicting the future of Ohio.